Upcoming meeting reflects growing concerns over St. Pete pier
ST. PETERSBURG -
The architect behind the city's proposed $50 million new pier could come face-to-face with some of the project's fiercest critics this month.
This week, City Council members are expected to schedule a special workshop on April 18 where architect Michael Maltzan and city staff members would address questions raised by members of Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the local group trying to force a referendum on the controversial Lens project.
Council Chairman Karl Nurse said he called for the meeting to try and dispel some claims about Maltzan's proposed Lens design, including concerns that its gangways are not wide enough for emergency vehicles to turn and that its aluminum rails will not withstand the Gulf's saltwater.
“It's to see if we can get opponents and our staff to reach some conclusions and get some of those issues addressed and off the table,” said Nurse.
That such a meeting would even be scheduled reflects growing concerns among some City Council members that the Lens project could become sidetracked. City officials are now conceding the Concerned Citizens group is likely to gather the signatures needed to force a vote.
Those concerns come as the next installment on the Lens design is coming due. Early next month, the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the next phase of the project and commit to spending $2 million on design development and construction drawings.
But the project's future remains far from assured.
City officials are waiting for a judge's ruling on a lawsuit filed by the group VoteonthePier, which wants to force a referendum on whether the pier should be saved.
Meanwhile, the Concerned Citizens group is moving ahead with a new petition that would require the City Council to either cancel Maltzan's contract or hold a referendum giving voters the chance to do that.
The workshop could help persuade the group to agree that any referendum could be held during the August primary election. Running a separate election would cost the city about $250,000.
“There is every reason to believe Stop the Lens will get sufficient signatures,” Nurse said. “It's in our interest to try to coordinate this so we don't have to spend a quarter a million dollars for a special election when we know there is an election in August anyway.”
Maltzan spoke to an appreciative audience at the Dali Museum on Feb. 28 but should expect a tougher crowd at the upcoming workshop.
“We want to discuss with them our criticisms of the Lens because we think it is a fundamentally flawed concept with many problems,” said Bill Ballard, president of Concerned Citizens group, who plans to attend.